Many people who would like to do more with their photography are unsure about exactly where to start. I recommend a subject that won’t require lots of equipment and provides the widest range of techniques to study. Flowers are a good choice.
With flowers, you get an uncomplaining subject with which you can experiment. Flowers can help you learn about color, lighting, close-up or macro, depth of field, composition, and many other topics. You can go out in the field for wildflowers or your neighbor’s garden. For rainy days, you can go to a flower shop and buy a small bouquet to shoot. (If you work fast, you can get in some good practice before your spouse gets home; rebundle the bouquet; and give her a present when she arrives home. I am always in need of a few bonus points.)
The easiest of these scenarios is to go out in the field to an area that is open to the public. Go early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the best light. Take your tripod if you have one for ultimate sharpness. Take your time with each image, but shoot lots of images. Shoot from several angles. Use the “Close Up” mode on your camera or a macro lens if you have one. Practice changing your aperture and look at the resulting changes in depth of field. Look for eye-pleasing arrangements and try to capture them within your frame.
If you’re using a bouquet, pull out one flower and put your effort into showing it at its best. Watch out for distracting furniture or counter tops in the background. Use a piece of cloth behind the flower to mask those distractions and place sole attention on your subject. If you keep your depth of field fairly narrow, the cloth will dissolve into a pleasant bokeh behind your sharply-focused subject.
You don’t need fancy lights to practice on flowers. You can use desk lamps, with cardboard taped to the sides to direct the light or reduce the amount falling on the subject. (Be careful to turn the lights off while you’re posing the flower, so you don’t overheat the cardboard and start a fire.) Remember to shoot lots of variations and pay attention to how the changing light set-ups affect your final results. If you have photo-processing software, you can also play with different effects there to change your image even further. You should change the colors and convert some to black and white for work there. To quote our favorite, local barkeep, “The permutations are endless.”
I’ve never had a flower complain to me that it’s bored with my experiments or grouse about how I didn’t catch its best side. You can use this learning technique with any small objects, creating a still life of fruit, trinkets, etc. This a fun way to learn.